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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Portland's Gain is the Oregonian's Loss

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, May 25, 2011 at 4:25 PM

Portland City Council this afternoon finally settled on a site where the city can store all the large equipment and vehicles required to dig out Westsiders after the inevitable happens and a massive earthquake wipes out our creaky Willamette River bridges.

Moving forward on a plan first mentioned in January, the city will now turn Southwest's Sergeant First Class Jerome Sears U.S. Army Reserve Center—a 3.7-acre site once targeted for affordable housing—into a disaster-response staging area. And the beauty of the plan is that using the site won't cost the city a dime.

That's a far cry from this plan, which the Mercury wrote about last year:

City council members sparred recently over a proposal to use money from a water-rate increase to buy land from the Oregonian newspaper. The controversial site would be a disaster-response staging area in case Portland gets hit by an earthquake that Mayor Sam Adams referred to as "The Big One" in council on May 19. "We've identified a site in Northwest and we're negotiating a purchase for around $10 million," explained Adams, who is pushing for the purchase of the NW Yeon and Nicolai lot, to provide parking for heavy equipment that's currently stored on the Eastside. Commissioner Randy Leonard, a supporter of the plan, cited the possibility of a bridge-busting earthquake: "How would we provide emergency services to the Westside?" But Commissioner Dan Saltzman, reenergized from his strong election results last month, pushed back. "I don't think we should be taking the last large industrial parcel of Northwest Portland and using it for, in essence, a parking lot," he said.

Dan Douthit, of the Portland Office of Emergency Management, said the cost eventually got too high for a council majority to feel comfortable. That deal fell through six to nine months ago, he said. And with it went a weird chapter in which the city's daily newspaper was involved in a complex land deal with a city government it covers and a mayor it's no friend of.

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